Tuesday, September 05, 2006

envy or spite?

Are the poor jealous of the rich or are the rich spiteful (or both)? Brad DeLong goes as far as to say that the rich ?transfer? utility from the rich to the poor by buying fancy stuff. This sounds like magik to me but what do I know. Here is what DeLong has to say, and here. My Hero's pileon so follow the links. Will Wilkinson is the most thorough.

I think that a lot of people will buy the spite theory. I don't doubt that it's sometimes true but think about the way things are in South Africa. DeLong must think that my lifestyle is designed to make the poor feel bad but I refuse to accept that. I would be happy if all the poor were as well off as I am; it upsets me that so many people live in poverty. To claim I enjoy their poverty (or my relative affluence) is stupid and insulting.

This debate also reminded me of Simon Blackburn's ethics book. People are keen to distinguish themselves from those just below themselves in status, they don't bother so much with those way below because they won't be mistaken for one of them. Like Tyler Cowen says, any spite is likely directed at other rich people.

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